Do you wear eyeglasses? Depending upon which statistics you believe, around 60 to 70 percent of the world’s population now needs some kind of corrective lenses due to poor eyesight.
It gets worse as we age too — The older we get, the more likely we are to need glasses.
This global phenomenon is a relatively new development — Back in the stone ages, poor eyesight was largely limited to the elderly. Anybody who couldn’t see, tended to die-off pretty quickly.
Even 40 years back, half as many people needed glasses in the United States.
Many scientists believe this huge increase in nearsightedness (myopia) is due to changes in our modern human lifestyle. For one, people spend a lot more time looking at screens today (like laptops, cell phones, and televisions) than they used to.
Other theories suggest that sunlight is a factor — we now largely work indoors instead of outdoors. Typically in darker environments where our eyes might be strained.
While none of the theories have been conclusively proven, it is very true that more people need vision correction than ever before.
The cost of regular eyesight correction is now a financial requirement for many people. It’s yet another financial burden in our modern lives. But don’t be fooled …
This is a cost you can attack!!
High-Priced Eye Exams
I got my first pair of glasses when I was in middle school. I remember it clearly (despite the fuzzy vision). I could no longer read the chalkboard at school and I complained to my parents. About a week later I had my first pair of glasses, and my initial entry into the ‘nerd club’.
Ever since those days, I’ve needed an annual eye exam, and a fresh pair of glasses just to see. My prescription changes every year, requiring a fresh exam and fresh set of glasses (or contacts).
While this doesn’t sound very frugal, I always chalked-it-up to being “my lot in life”. Eventually I got used to the high prices that optometrists charged…
To save money (as a poor college student), I would sometimes try to economize by skipping my annual exam and foregoing my annual pair of new glasses. As you’d guess, I was stuck for a year with the wrong prescription.
Heachaches and tired eyes were the result.
After college, (when money was more abundant) I got back into the habit of heading to my local optometrist and getting an eye exam plus new glasses (or contacts) every year. Being able to see is required for work, right?
Ironically, once I resumed going regularly to an eye doctor, I was largely blind to the costs.
This was a huge mistake.
As Carlos Sicupira once said, “Costs are like fingernails; you have to cut them constantly.”
I really should have been paying more attention — year after year my optometrist raised her annual exam fees — to the point where I almost choked when I saw the prices last year– my annual eye exam alone cost $280.
What did I get for this outrageous fee? A few automated tests performed by a college kid, and then another 10 minutes with the optometrist to manually validate the automated prescription. That’s pretty much it.
What I didn’t realize is over the last 30 years, prescription eyeglasses have now become a commodity. Almost everybody on the planet is going to need glasses at some point in their life, and the process is now extremely automated.
There is zero difference between the optometrist at your local mall, the one at Costco, or that fancy optometrist office I’d been going to for years — They all run the same tests and use exactly the same automated machines to determine your prescription.
The difference in price largely comes down to real estate and profit margins.
Eye Care Is A Commodity
Just like any other business, my local optometrist was running her “store” for maximum profit. She setup a fancy looking office, filled it with premium eyeglass products, and then set prices as she saw fit.
But remember — Eye care is now largely a commodity. Most optometric offices use automated machines called an automatic refractor/keratometer to measure your prescription. In a matter of seconds this device can map the surface of your eye, test for an astigmatism, and print-out your prescription.
To test for other eye problems like glaucoma, similar automated devices are now used by non-optometrists to produce very accurate results.
Does a “high-cost” optometrist office provide better service than a cheaper store? From what I can tell, it’s largely not true — For most people, the machines are going to do most of the work.
Unless you have unusual eyesight problems, there really is little difference between the high-cost optometrist and a low cost store. Maybe the chairs are a little nicer at the high-cost store.
In my case, I’ve wasted thousands of dollars over the years going to the same overpriced optometrist that’s been selling me commodity services at premium prices. ARGH!!!
It’s not just the eye exams that are expensive either — Glasses and contacts are also sold at significant premiums.
Take for example, my newest pair of glasses — My optometrist carried an assortment of fancy high-priced designer frames. Being a frugal guy, I simply skipped the rack of $300 designer frames and went over to the “bargain” shelf instead. I picked out a frame on-sale for $100.
That’s a good deal, right? After I added-in a pair of lenses with the blue-light blocking filter (I spend a lot of time on the computer), my latest pair of eyeglasses added up to $288. Yikes!
I also wear contact lenses regularly, so I purchased a one year supply. The cost? $240 at my local optometrist.
The final bill was $808. Ouch! I think my jaw must have hit the floor when I saw the total.
Thankfully, that large bill was the right “kick in the ass” I needed to see the light. I’ve been very negligent in optimizing this area of my life… until now!
Commodities (of course) are supposed to be cheap — After that ridiculous bill, I called around to my local optometrists to find out what everybody was charging. I should have been doing this years ago!
What did I find? Costco was easily the cheapest in my area. As much as bloggers like myself, Root of Good, and Tawcan have been poo-poo’ing on Costco lately, their optometry department is actually quite affordable.
Here’s the cost breakdown:
Yes, the Costco price is less than half of what I paid at the fancy-pants optometrist. The savings alone is worth the price of my annual Costco membership.
Everyone who wears corrective lenses needs to be shopping around for the best prices, just like buying groceries. It only needs to be done once a year!
The savings are worth the effort to make a few calls.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve been overpaying for years. But I could cut my costs even further by going exclusively to contacts OR glasses. The middle of the road situation I exist in today where I get both glasses and contacts, is overly expensive.
Why do I do this? I simply feel like I see better with contacts. I also tend to get fewer headaches and have less eye-strain when I wear contacts. To save money, I could easily pick one option or the other, but I’m willing to pay the higher cost to get both.
It’s also worth considering other methods to correct myopia — For people who’s prescription doesn’t change frequently (unlike mine), laser eye surgery is a viable option. The average cost per eye is roughly $2,000-$3,000, making it quite expensive. Given a long enough time period however, this option could save you money.
Unfortunately, the ravages of time can’t be stopped — Even if your eyes are perfect right now (or you received LASIK surgery), time is going to catch up to you. Most people will eventually need glasses for reading due to a condition called presbyopia.
No matter what you do, there seems to be no escape from the cost of good eyesight.
It’s now time to turn the topic over to the readers — How much do you pay for exams, glasses, or contacts?
[Image Credit: Flickr]